The wonderful folks at Reframing Autism recently launched a series of videos by Autistic people sharing their views on a variety of topics. (Check out their Facebook page for more and hit them a Like or Follow while you’re there!) This video is my humble contribution, about my Autistic identity.
A few years ago, during a coffee catch-up with a brain scientist friend, I revealed to him that I had been diagnosed as Autistic. It was both intriguing and saddening to see and hear his reaction. Where previously, he had declare how fascinated he was with my eccentric personality, now, he was somewhat derisive.
“Oh, you can’t be Autistic, you’re not at all like Temple Grandin! You are too fluent in your speech and communication.”
I tried to explain, that I have had plenty of practice, since I began to become aware of my own existence, around the age of 5 or 6, I started to practice in front of the mirror, taking on various personas. The subconscious was already telling me that I was not the same as others, and I had embarked on a meticulous training journey in the art of social camouflage. There were awkward moments – and there still are – but I made it my life’s mission (at the time) to refine my skills so much so that nobody could tell I was performing. It wasn’t difficult to carry off when in the midst of strangers, and even with so-called ‘close’ friends, I was consciously engaging myself in various forms of theatre. I was in my 40s by the time I was formally diagnosed – Asperger’s was the label then, but I am more comfortable with the encompassing ‘Autistic’ identity, not just because Asperger’s is now subsumed into the wider Autism category but also because I do not want to be associated in any way with the small group of ‘Aspie Supremacists’ who deem themselves superior to the rest of autistic people.
My explanation – which has since become a recognised phenomenon called ‘masking’ or ‘social camouflage’ studied seriously by researchers today – fell on un empathic ears. The brain scientist decided he was the expert who knew me better than I did myself. His question saddened me.
“Is this because you want to be Autistic?”
I realised, then, that there will be friends I have to leave behind along this journey towards being Me. And he was one of them.
Again, I’ll leave this song of mine – first recorded in 2000 – here, as a reminder to all, and to me, that Beingness is an endeavour, but we should never be ashamed of the effort and the journey.